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Jenni Carlson: Is it Tulsa’s time?

by Jenni Carlson Published: July 21, 2009
I want to believe the WNBA would work in Tulsa.

I want to buy into the notion that fans would come because they love women’s basketball. Or because they feel the tug of civic pride. Or because they are drawn to the only big-league sport in town.

Really, I want all of that to be true.

I’m just not sure it is.

Over the weekend, we learned that a group of investors is working to lure a WNBA team to Tulsa. They will talk more about their plans and goals during a press conference Wednesday, but this much we know already — Bill Cameron and David Box are involved.

That bodes well for the WNBA in Tulsa. The Oklahoma City businessmen, after all, have impressive resumes. Cameron is behind the success of American Fidelity Assurance. Box is a thriving concert producer and real estate developer. Chances are good, neither is looking to throw away his money on a bad investment.

That they believe the WNBA could work in Tulsa is a significant endorsement.

Still, there are reasons for skepticism.

No doubt the popularity of women’s basketball has grown in our fair state during the past decade. The NCAA regionals in Oklahoma City the past couple years were the most highly attended in the country. The Big 12 tournaments that have come to town two of the past three years have been big hits, too.

But is all of that because Oklahomans have become fans of women’s basketball or fans of Sherri Coale?

The Sooner coach and her gals are the reason for the surge of support for women’s basketball here. While folks have come to appreciate the game more, they are more fans of Coale and Co. than they are fans of women’s basketball.

What could that mean for the WNBA?

Look at Connecticut. Geno Auriemma and his UConn Huskies are wildly popular there, playing to sold-out crowds much like the Sooners have in recent years. When the WNBA moved a team from Florida to Connecticut six years ago, it was hoping to capitalize on that fanaticism for women’s basketball.

Heading into this past weekend’s games, the Connecticut Sun ranked 12th in WNBA attendance.

The league only has 13 teams.

If a WNBA team is struggling in Connecticut, a hotbed for women’s basketball, why wouldn’t it struggle in Oklahoma?

The difference might be civic pride. Oklahomans, after all, are a loyal breed. They’ll buy tickets and attend games and become fans because they believe it will make their city and their state a better place to live.

by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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